Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Zebra - In The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My recent posts about Moons (those things I deeply desire to bring into my life and live into) have been inspired by Garth Stein's novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. This post will explore an additional piece of the novel - the zebra.

Before getting into the zebra, I will recall that The Art of Racing in the Rain has an interesting first-person narrator - the dog Enzo, who belongs to Denny Swift, a semi-professional race car driver. Enzo understands human speech. He believes that he is living his last lifetime as a dog and that he will be ready to reincarnate in his next lifetime as a human.

At the point in the novel where the zebra appears, Enzo has been left alone in the Swift house for three days. Denny's wife, Eve, has become suddenly and seriously ill while Denny is out of town. Feeling frightened and not thinking clearly, Eve gathers her belongings and daughter, Zoe, and goes to stay at her parents' home until Denny returns. She doesn't stop to think that she has locked Enzo in the house with no one to care for him.

Enzo knows that Denny will return in three days and that he can survive on his own until then by not eating, slowing his metabolism, and drinking sparingly from the toilet bowl. But on the second evening, Enzo begins to hallucinate, and this is where the zebra appears. Although it is a long quote from pages 52-54, I want to give the full quote of what happened with the zebra.

During the second night, approximately forty hours into my solitude, I think I began to hallucinate. Licking at the legs of Zoe's high chair where I had discovered some remnants of yogurt spilled long ago, I inadvertently sparked my stomach's digestive juices to life with an unpleasant groan, and I heard a sound coming from her bedroom. When I investigated, I saw something terrible and frightening. One of her stuffed animal toys was moving about on its own.

It was the zebra. The stuffed zebra that had been sent to her by her paternal grandparents, who may have been stuffed animals themselves for all that we saw them in Seattle. I never cared for that zebra, as it was something of my rival for Zoe's affection. Frankly, I was surprised to see it in the house, since it was one of Zoe's favorites and she carted it around at length and even slept with it, wearing little grooves in its coat just below the animal's velveteen head. I found it hard to believe Eve hadn't grabbed it when she threw together their bag, but I guess she was so freaked out or in such pain that she overlooked the zebra.

The now-living zebra said nothing to me at all, but when it saw me it began a dance, a twisting, jerky ballet, which culminated with the zebra repeatedly thrusting its gelded groin into the face of an innocent Barbie doll. That made me quite angry, and I growled at the molester zebra, but it simply smiled and continued its assault, this time picking on a stuffed frog, which it mounted from behind and rode bareback, its hoof in the air like a bronco rider, yelling out, "Yee-haw! Yee-haw!"

I stalked the bastard as it abused and humiliated each of Zoe's toys with great malice. Finally, I could take no more and I moved in, teeth bared for attack, to end the brutal burlesque once and for all. But before I could get the demented zebra in my fangs, it stopped dancing and stood on its hind legs before me. then it reached down with its forelegs and tore at the seam that ran down its belly. Its own seam! It ripped the seam open until it was able to reach in and tear out its own stuffing. It continued dismantling itself, seam by seam, handful by handful, until it expelled whatever demon's blood had brought it to life and was nothing more than a pile of fabric and stuffing that undulated on the floor, beating like a heart ripped from a chest, slowly, slower, and then nothing.

Traumatized, I left Zoe's room, hoping that what I had seen was in my mind, a vision driven by the lack of glucose in my blood, but knowing, somehow, that it wasn't a vision; it was true. Something terrible had happened.

When Denny, Eve, and Zoe finally come home, Zoe goes into her room and discovers, to her horror and the horror of her parents, that all her stuffed animal toys have been torn to shreds. As Denny sees it, this is Enzo's doing. Enzo describes how Denny angrily drags him into Zoe's room and what he sees there.

He dragged me through the kitchen and down the hall, into Zoe's room where she sat, stunned, on the floor in the middle of a huge mess. Her dolls, her animals, all torn to shreds, eviscerated, a complete disaster. Total carnage. I could only assume that the evil demon zebra had reassembled itself and destroyed the other animals after I had left. I should have eliminated the zebra when I had my chance. I should have eaten it, even if it had killed me.

Denny is so angry that, in a completely uncharacteristic move, he hits Enzo hard on the side of the head. Eve cries out and runs to protect Enzo. Enzo describes his reaction to Denny's blow.

Denny stopped. He wouldn't hit her [Eve]. No matter what. Just as he wouldn't hit me. He hadn't hit me, I know, even though I could feel the pain of the blow. He had hit the demon, the evil zebra, the dark creature that came into the house and possessed the stuffed animal. Denny believed the evil demon was in me, but it wasn't. I saw it. The demon had possessed the zebra and left me at the bloody scene with no voice to defend myself - I had been framed.

So what is going on with the zebra? Here is how I see it. Enzo loves his human family - Denny and Eve and Zoe. He understands Eve's abrupt departure and the fear and pain that result in her inadvertently locking him alone in the house - in fact, Enzo's keen nose has told him for some time that Eve is seriously ill, but being a dog, he can't communicate this to the family.

Enzo is aware that the Swift family members love him, that Eve is very ill, that she didn't mean to lock him alone in the house, and that he has the means to survive until the family returns. But Enzo is not aware - he cannot acknowledge - that he is also very angry at being left, so angry that he himself tears all of Zoe's stuffed animals to shreds. He cannot acknowledge or own this behavior or the accompanying feelings. The destruction must have been caused by the evil zebra.

Later, Enzo learns that the zebra is not outside us but within us. He learns this as he watches Denny struggle with accepting an easy settlement in an important lawsuit. Exhausted, Denny is about to sign the easy settlement, when Enzo notices that Denny's pen has a zebra on it! Enzo grabs Denny's document in his mouth, dives through the window with it, and finally pees on it - all to show Denny how important it is not to accept an easy settlement but to go for the Moon, since Denny knows that he is in the right.

At this point, Enzo understands that the zebra is within. On page 264, Enzo says: "The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times."

I like this: The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times.

Thus, I can see this worst part both as myself and as the zebra. I can acknowledge this worst part as part of me: I feel angry, vengeful, resentful - I would relish doing something mean and hateful. I can also see this worst part as the zebra. This allows me to put my anger outside myself where I can look at my anger more objectively, where I need not inhabit my anger, where I can choose to inhabit compassion instead. The zebra helps me to see anger as part of me, not as me. Even if I feel consumed by anger, I am not my anger. The anger is part of me, yes, but I do not need to inhabit it. I can say, "Ah, that's the zebra. I do not need to be the zebra. I can be compassion instead."

To acknowledge one's feelings and to be able to separate oneself from them is very helpful. It allows one to say, "I feel angry, and I do not need to act from anger." The anger is within me, and I do not need to act it out. I acknowledge the zebra within, and I choose not to be the zebra.

I am thinking of the zebra as related to anger (and often it is), but it can also be related to giving up, as Denny was about to do with the lawsuit, when I should really stand up for myself. In that case, I need to have compassion for myself and to stand firm without acting vengefully.

Martha Beck in Steering by Starlight goes through a similar process with unwarranted fear. She personifies her fear as a lizard. Whenever fear tries to stop her from going for the Moon, she recognizes that this is the lizard, she speaks kindly to the lizard, and then she turns her attention to the Moon. When I read Steering by Starlight, I decided to name my lizard Jerome and to feed Jerome some blueberries and speak kindly to him when he became agitated and fearful. (Based on my recent posts about my Moons and my fears, I can tell that I need to remember Jerome!)

As for the zebra, I think I shall name my zebra Cassidy, speak firmly and kindly to calm him, feed him some hay (do zebras enjoy hay?), and turn my attention to compassion - compassion both for myself and for others.

1 comment:

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